From Source to Resource: Gilbert’s Urban Water Cycle
Understanding how water moves around the planet is something most of us learned at a young age. Natural forces, such as evaporation, condensation, precipitation and transpiration constantly change the state of water between solid, liquid and gas, and continuously move it around the planet in a system known as The Water Cycle.
In an image, the Water Cycle can appear to be a consistent, calm system but, in reality, it is powerful and fickle. In fact, prior to modern technologies and infrastructure, weather events like droughts and floods made it very difficult to settle areas like our Salt River Valley.
Early settlers in this region worked hard to make a living on the land but were met with constant struggles from droughts and floods. Understanding that without a controlled and reliable water supply this region would never prosper, early settlers began to build water canals, storage reservoirs, and water towers. Now, almost 100 years later, we have a thriving community in the desert with a sophisticated, albeit inconspicuous, water system that provides safe and reliable drinking water at the turn of a faucet. But do you ever wonder how this process works? Where our water comes from? And where it goes?
Let’s take a look…
- The majority of Gilbert’s water comes from the Colorado River (via the Central Arizona Project) and the Salt and Verde Rivers (via Salt River Project). Gilbert uses a sustainable amount of groundwater and replenishes the resource by storing excess reclaimed water and surface water in the ground.
- These water supplies are delivered one of our two water treatment plants and treated to drinking water quality standards.
- This treated water is delivered to our homes and businesses through our water distribution system, a system composed of over 12,000 fire hydrants, 1,300 miles of pipe, 83,000 water meters and 37,218 isolation valves.
- At our homes, we use water inside and outside. On average, almost 70% of our water is used outside! This is almost twice as much more water than is actually needed for healthy plants and lawns. Gilbert has free services to help homeowners use water as efficiently as possible.
- The water that we use indoors flows from our drains into the wastewater collection system (aka sewer system), which includes 17,700 sewer manholes, 990 miles of pipeline and 15 lift stations.
- The sewer system funnels into one of two wastewater reclamation facilities where it is treated to A+ quality and made ready for reuse.
- A portion of the treated water is used to irrigate large grass areas such as parks or golf courses while the remaining portion is sent to recharge facilities, like the Riparian Preserve, to percolate into the ground and recharge our groundwater supplies.
- Over time, this water will filter through our aquifer, the East Salt River Valley Sub-basin, eventually making its way back into our wells… and the whole process starts again!
As you can see, just as water continuously moves around the planet by the natural forces in the water cycle, water also continuously moves through Gilbert in our Urban Water Cycle. This efficient use and continual reuse of water is fundamental to long-term prosperity in our desert region.